Rockford's Independent Newspaper

City looks at federal money for College Avenue rehab project

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD – Rockford’s Planning & Development Committee on Monday approved a proposal to use federal funds to help a local development company give a vacant building near the Morgan Street Bridge a facelift.

The plan was brought to the committee by Zion Development Corp. and an organization that calls itself “Fordham Forward,” which follows the Purpose Built Community model of neighborhood redevelopment. The project would rehabilitate a vacant two-family home at 512 College Ave. The unique development would include one market-rate unit and one subsidized apartment.

Zion Executive Director Bob Campbell told the committee that the goal is use pass-through funds from the HOME Investment Partnership Program. If the full council approves Zion’s request, the city would use the cash to provide a 15-year forgivable loan to cover what the developer cannot secure from a bank.

And while some aldermen questioned whether the investment would be viable, some officials say it would be a step in the right direction to improve the ORCHiD neighborhood.

“If we say ‘no’ to this project, we send hundreds of thousands of dollars back to the federal government that will go unused,” Mayor Tom McNamara said. “And we’d say that having blighted properties in low-income areas is acceptable. Right now, if you drive by 512 College Avenue, you’ll see blighted structure. Is the option just to leave it blighted? I don’t think that’s a good option. If you look at what’s going in that area, from the Sports Factory to the Morgan Street Bridge and Rails to Trails and now the school, I think there are a lot of pieces coming together to really make that neighborhood one that’s sought after.”

Sought after as in how Rockford’s downtown corridor has come to life, the mayor said.

“Our downtown has seen a revitalization,” McNamara added. “Seven or eight years ago, when we first started seeing apartments, they didn’t start out at $2,000 apartments. We slowly reached our way into that area and now some of them are $1,500 and $2,000 a month. It’s a natural progression.”

Because it is a non-owner occupied two-flat in a low-rent area, the property would likely qualify for about $70,000 in conventional financing. That leaves about $130,000.

“With so many of these projects, they start off with the same goal of not being just another (that’s) subsidized, low-income,” Fifth Ward Ald. Venita Hervey said. “We continue in southwest and near-east Rockford to concentrate poverty and concentrate low income and when we do that, we rob children of educational choice, we rob people of essential services, we delude ourselves about non-subsidized development and I just want to see a stop to it.”

Hervey said she wants to see more market-rate occupancy in low-income neighborhoods, but without adding public housing.

“Other cities do it,” she said. “And it brings positive change.”

Campbell said the project will help bring about that change.

“There are two aspects to the affordable housing piece,” he said. “One is the de-concentration of poverty, and the other is revitalizing low-income neighborhoods and stabilizing the housing that exists. And that is what this project would propose to do.”

The city has until the end of the month to earmark its HOME funds or send them back.

The item will up for discussion by the full council next Monday. R.

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